“People who keep kosher for Passover have obscenely low expectations,” says Jessica Levison, who keeps a kosher home and business. Pickings can be meager. Many foods, even those that are kosher the rest of the year, aren’t kosher for Passover. But Levison believes the holiday should be celebrated with more than matzo and gefilte fish.
“It makes my life that we offer amazing kosher for Passover ice cream and sorbet.”
Levison, Serendipity Creamery CEO and ice cream visionary, makes kosher for Passover ice cream that’s organic, small-batch and “completely on par with year-round flavor variety and quality.”
Levison’s Serendipity is not the iconic New York Serendipity, but a Surfside fixture that has been scooping up kosher frozen treats since 2009. That includes kosher for Passover dairy ice cream, coconut-based vegan ice cream and sorbet. Not only that, but Levison, an attorney turned ice cream entrepreneur, creates special holiday flavors including macaroon and charoset.
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OK, she changed the name to baked apple pie ice cream for marketing purposes, but she makes it with apples, sweet wine and walnuts, the ingredients in the charoset on your seder plate.
“I can’t believe how delicious it is,” moans Levison, whose slender build belies her ice cream addiction.
The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Levison, 36, was raised Jewish but not kosher. That changed after she met her husband, attorney Brent Levison. He started keeping kosher after spending a year in Israel as a young adult.
“He was so inspired by it, he became more spiritual.”
The two met, married in 2008, and you know how love is. “I feel better about what I eat when it’s kosher,” she says. “It was a simple switch.”
Switching to kosher certification at Serendipity was harder. Sourcing kosher ingredients is only part of the process. The kitchen facility itself must be kosherized, with surfaces and implements cleaned and sterilized beyond even your mother-in-law’s standards. It must be inspected by a mashgiach — a kosher expert, usually a rabbi — who remains on-site to oversee food preparation.
Serendipity ice cream production is “all supervised. The rabbis,” Levison says fondly, “they love to chitchat.”
But they miss nothing. “They’re watching 100 percent of the time, even after you train and think you know everything, to make sure you do it the right way,” says Hollywood-based kosher caterer Shaike Korlansky.
It seems Levison’s doing it the right way. “You can taste it,” Slow Food Miami Vice President Julie Frans says. “Jessica sources her ingredients carefully, her products are unique, beautiful and fresh.”
It’s not just talk. Slow Food Miami is awarding Serendipity Creamery its coveted Slow Food Snail of Approval.
Frans and Levison met last month when Serendipity provided mojito and raspberry ice pops for Wynwood Yard’s Shabbat dinner. Community, faith, ice cream — “it was everything I love,” Levison says.
Serendipity’s Wynwood pop-up is where she test markets her ever-evolving array of flavors from charoset to petunia, featuring organic and edible blossoms from Paradise Farms.
Not every flavor has been a hit. Late one night, she felt a burning need to create an ice cream with mix-ins including M&Ms and onion-flavored potato chips. “That was my pregnancy talking,” says Levison, mother of Mila, 3 1/2 and Leo, 1 1/2.
Serendipity will close for Passover Friday evening and all day Saturday. “We try to honor the holidays,” says Levison, who with her family belongs to the Shul at Bal Harbour, an Orthodox congregation. She’s preparing for a seder with her parents, brothers, cousins and neighbors. Her grandmother’s recipe for matzo ball soup will be on the seder table and no doubt there’ll be ice cream for dessert, but “the focus is always the kids.”
Compared to the long, slow seders of her own childhood, Levison’s seders, geared to the under-4 set, involve games, toys and “are a little faster, which I think everyone appreciates.”
Serendipity supplies a select group of clients including 1 Hotel South Beach, the Forge and 26 Sushi, but Levison feels a special affinity for the Surfside kosher clientele who’ve supported her from the beginning.
“It’s a pleasure you can’t imagine,” she says. “To be part of the community, that’s pretty cool.”
Tio Pepe Palomino Sherry* Roasted Figs and Rosemary Ice Cream
Recipe courtesy of LeBasque Catering.
For honey-rosemary ice cream
2 cups almond milk
2/3 cup honey
1 6-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
5 large egg yolks
large pinch of fine sea salt
For roasted figs
4 6-inch sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 large fresh ripe figs, any variety , stems trimmed, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup Tio Pepe Palomino sherry
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
black pepper, to taste
To make ice cream, combine almond milk, honey and rosemary in a large saucepan. Stir over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until bubbles form around edges of pan. Remove from heat. Cover and let set for 30 minutes. Remove rosemary. Reheat almond milk and honey mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a simmer. In a separate metal bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sea salt. Gradually pour in hot almond milk mixture and whisk together until blended. Pour mixture back into saucepan and stir over medium-low heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain mixture back into metal bowl. Set bowl over a large bowl filled with ice and water. Stir occasionally for 10 minutes or until cool, thickened and custard-like. Remove bowl of chilled almond custard from ice and water bath. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 4 hours.
To make roasted figs, strip the bottom 4 1/2 inches of leaves off the rosemary sprigs, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of leaves at the tips. Finely chop 2 tablespoons of the stripped rosemary leaves. Set aside. Set rosemary stems in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak and soften for at least 30 minutes. Remove stems and pat dry with a paper towel. Skewer 2 fig halves crosswise on each rosemary stem. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Arrange the skewers on the baking sheet, with the cut sides of the figs facing up. In a small bowl, mix together sherry, honey and lemon juice. Brush the honey/lemon mixture over the cut side of the figs. Preheat broiler to medium-high. Broil the figs until lightly browned and softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn skewers gently and broil for another minute or two. Remove and sprinkle the cut side of the figs evenly with the reserved chopped rosemary leaves and some black pepper. Scoop some rosemary ice cream onto each plate, accompanied by a fig skewer.
Yield: 4 servings.
*A kosher sherry available at most liquor stores.
Adapted from recipe courtesy of Marcy Goldman, author of “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking,” who created and wisely trademarked it 30 years ago. It’s crunchy, sweet, easy, addictive and unlike most Passover sweets, eggless. No doubt, your new go-to Passover dessert recipe.
4 to 6 sheets matzo
1 cup butter or unsalted Passover margarine, cut into chunks
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup bittersweet chocolate (or 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips), chopped
optional: sprinkle of flaky sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of foil. Cover the foil with a sheet of parchment paper. This will reduce mess, cleanup and headache. Place matzo on top of parchment paper, fitting matzo pieces to cover completely. Combine butter or margarine and brown sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 2 to 5 minutes or until mixture comes to boil. Continue cooking and stirring for another 3 minutes. Butter and sugar mixture will be dark and smooth. Remove from heat and spoon or pour over matzo. Bake for 15 minutes. Matzo will bubble. If it appears to be burning in spots, reduce temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking. Remove matzo from the oven. Immediately sprinkle with the chopped chocolate. Let the matzo stand for 5 minutes, then spread the melted chocolate over the matzo, using a spatula or the back of a spoon. Top with sea salt, if desired. Freeze in the pan until well set, about 45 minutes, then break into pieces. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container.
Yield: About 30 pieces, serving 10 to 12.